When I posted the Instagram version of Monday’s outfit, the caption I added was “Every time I wear black and white, I wonder why I ever bother with anything else.” And it’s true. A few recent “signpost” moments like this have provided some very clear direction regarding my still-evolving style.
Style: It’s Personal.
Above, two very different takes on personal style, both French femmes d’un certain âge.
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal style lately, especially as more and more of our cohort (the over-50 style bloggers) have been getting some nice recognition in the media. While the avant-garde, creative and splashy looks, as featured by Ari Seth Cohen in his Advanced Style books and on his blog, seem to garner the most attention, there are also those who are recognized for a personal style that’s a bit more mainstream. I’m cheering for all of us, and am always thrilled when someone I know (even if just online) gets a shout out from Big Media.
When I think of those people whose style I admire, the common denominator isn’t necessarily the particular aesthetic itself (though that may be part of it), but rather that their style seems an organic extension of who they are. They seem comfortable in their own skin (and clothes). These recent outfit posts from materfamilias and Bag and a Beret showcase two very different styles, yet the sense of “knowing who they are and dressing accordingly” comes through brilliantly in both. My path toward figuring that out has often curved and twisted, and at times has been obscured.
Inspiration or Distraction?
First, there are all of the guidelines about colors and shapes and what’s flattering or not to sort through. And figuring out how important all of that is to me. (Somewhat, it turns out.) While it’s helpful to do our style “due diligence” those objective factors alone aren’t the sum total of personal style. Who we are is more than just our shape and coloring and lifestyle. What expresses those intangibles?
I loved this quote from Sophie Fontanel (pictured at top on the right) in an interview posted on Vogue:
“If you want to be well dressed, you have to learn by watching old movies, by going to the museum, and by surfing on the Internet. Just have a walk on the Internet, and have a look at Marilyn Monroe. She was very well dressed, with simple pants. It is very important to see things other than magazine things. You have to read good books, to read poetry. It’s when you put nice things into your soul that you understand how to dress well.” [emphasis mine]
To me, style is about the inside as much as the outside. Developing an appreciation of art, literature, beauty, and culture hones our eye and our sensibilities. And understanding ourselves, our values and our place in the world is essential to developing a coherent personal style.
I’ve found that it helps to cultivate style muses, and examine both the details and the overall impression they present. Beyond the cut of a jacket or a color combination, what about their style speaks to me? What does it say about who they are? It’s not so much about copying another’s style as identifying what resonates and finding ways to express that myself.
At times I get inspired by those who take more risks, who bend the rules or drape themselves in color and pattern and exuberance. Inspired enough sometimes to try incorporating some of these elements in my outfits. Occasionally it works, but often it just feels a bit forced. I’m learning to listen to that feeling, and heed it.
“Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly” — Epictetus
The truth is, I have a practical streak a mile wide. My style needs to acknowledge that. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of frippery, superfluous details, designs that hinder movement or materials that are wrecked just by breathing on them. My clothes have to make sense. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy adding a little whimsy or drama here and there, but I still require comfort, the ability to move, and a feeling of purpose to whatever I’m wearing.
When I hit that sweet spot where the inside and outside are aligned, I know it, and I think it comes through in my photos too. I’ll probably never be pegged for Instagram stardom, and I’m OK with that. I’m sure that many find my style boring as heck and I’m OK with that too. I’ve realized that the most important aspect of personal style is authenticity, and that’s something we each have to find for ourselves.
And once again it looks like Patti and I are on the same wavelength…
Singing my tune…